Wednesday 16 March 2011

The Butterfly of Death

Golden Butterfly
In a short note taken down by John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury of Torlum, Benbecula, the subject of death and its connection with a type of butterfly is mentioned. There are, of course, many different words for the butterfly in Scottish Gaelic, but one of the most common is dealan-dè (sometimes dearbadan-dè, depending on dialect) and another fairly frequent one is amadan-dè. This superstitious belief was probably once common in other areas of the Highlands and Islands as well as in other localities:

The “Dalan De” of golden
colour is considered of
great importance at
the time of death,
If seen after, flying
over the remains, whether
in coffin or shroud it was
supposed the spirit was,
in heaven. There is only
one class of “Dalan De,”
of medium size & of fine
yellowish colour, like gold.
“All the other kinds are of
moss, or other worms,
such as the grub, turning
into flies.

Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael writes: ‘There are many kinds of Butterfly, but the kind we speak of is not so plentiful. The true Yellow Butterfly is near half an inch in length, and stouter about the body than any other kind, covered with pretty down or plumage, very small about tail—more so than any other kind under the sun. The top of his head is like a king’s crown with a fringe around it. His hue is half-way between fine gold and the white snow of the hill. He is always seen in summer, quiet and peaceful, without heat of flurry, above the corpses of infants and of other good people. It is a good sign to see the Yellow Butterfly upon a corpse or near a corpse. They say that every furrow and streak in his wings and in his head and in his body is exactly the manner of those that were in the sacred corpse and body of the Saviour lying in the linen shroud.

CW1/45, ff. 13v–14r
Carmina Gadelica, iv, pp. 4–5.
Image: Golden Butterfly.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]